YEREVAN (Sputnik)—Armenia’s Defense Minister on Wednesday accused Ankara of pursuing “extremely destructive” policies in the South Caucasus region.
Turkey’s “extremely destructive’ policies in the South Caucasus continue to isolate it from regional processes and normalizing ties with Armenia, Armenian Defense Minister Vigen Sargsyan told Sputnik during an interview.
“Turkey behaves extremely destructively in the South Caucasus: it continues the blockade of Armenia, it continues to deny the obvious — the fact of Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire,” Sargsyan said.
The minister accused Ankara of “retreating” from the 2009-2010 Zurich Protocols, a scrapped agreement aiming to normalize diplomatic relations and opening borders.
“And with its biased attitude toward the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Turkey continues to effectively isolate itself from the regional processes,” Sargsyan pointed out.
Iskander missile systems supplied by Russia in 2016 are owned and managed by the Armenian Armed Forces, said Sargsyan.
“The fact that Iskanders were delivered to Armenia I think is obvious, because everyone clearly saw them. The fact that they belong to the Armenian Armed Forces I can confirm with absolute certainty,” Sargsyan said.
The minister said other questions are classified as “top secret,” including “when, how much, what payment terms and others.”
“We do manage them, we are own them. This is where I can open the veil of secrecy for you,” Sargsyan said.
Armenia’s decision whether to deploy Russia’s Iskander missile systems in the country will be tied to “developments,” Sargsyan said.
“I can present the algorithm. The function and characteristics of this weapon enable to cause irreparable damage to the infrastructure of the country against which it is used. So, the decision to use Iskanders will be closely linked to the development of the situation,” Sargsyan said.
The defense minister noted that although the Iskander systems were considered to be a deterrent weapon, they could be used as “a guaranteed strike weapon if the necessity arises.”
“It is obvious that the situation may dictate revision of such approaches,” he added.
Iskanders were first demonstrated on September 21 at a military parade in Yerevan marking the 25th anniversary of Armenia’s independence.
The 102nd Russian military base in the Armenian city of Gyumri is as vital component of national security, Sargsyan.
“We consider its [military base’s] presence as a very important component of our country’s security system,” Sargsyan said.
He also characterized the Gyumri base as the significant element within the military and political spheres of the Armenian-Russian cooperation as well as an important factor of deterrence.
Sargsyan pointed out that after extension of the agreement on its location, the base became responsible not only for the security “within the perimeter of the former USSR external border,” but also for the security of Armenia as a whole.
The official added that the increase of the base’s staff numbers is not relevant at the present moment.
“Increase in the number of staff can never be a goal in and of itself, it should respond to the specific challenges of a specific situation,” Sargsyan said.
The Russian 102nd Military Base is located in the Armenian city of Gyumri, and is part of the Joint CIS Air Defense System. On August 20, 2010, Russia and Armenia prolonged the agreement on the base location until 2044. The treaty also stipulates the expansion of the base’s geographical and strategic responsibility.
Sargsyan said that the current level of cooperation between Yerevan and Moscow was very high.
The Armenian Defense Ministry expressed contentment with cooperation with Russia as its strategic partner in the military and industrial sphere.
“Russia is a strategic ally. This is the way we regard cooperation with Russia,” Sargsyan said. “The current level of the relations is very high.”
Sargsyan expressed Armenia’s openness for the further intensification of the military and political dialogue and noted that consultations between the ministries of defense of both countries were being held on a regular basis.
Apart from this, the high-level visits are carried out regularly, he said.
Sargsyan noted that he was glad to welcome Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Yerevan as part of his participation in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) summit in August 2016 as well as to have visited Russia in November 2016. Besides, Armenia received the Russian delegation headed by Deputy Minister of Defense Ruslan Tsalikov during the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Armenian army formation in January.
“In my point of view the more visits the better, because our cooperation is aimed at the comprehensive examination of the system of challenges and threats in our region, understanding of mutual interests and formation of the policy of foreign affairs and military and political bloc with regard to these interests,” Sargsyan pointed out.
The Armenian Defense Minister told Sputnik that Yerevan’s cooperation with NATO does not threaten its relations with Russia.
Armenia’s cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is not directed against its strategic alliance with Russia, Sargsyan told Sputnik.
“Our relations with NATO were always built completely openly for our allied countries and partners. We have never made a secret of this, and this cooperation could never and never will be directed against the interests of our strategic alliance with Russia,” Sargsyan said.
Armenia takes part in the NATO Resolute Support mission to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces launched on January 1, 2015 as a follow-up on the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) combat mission, which completed at the end of 2014. Armenia also participated in ISAF mission sending up to 131 soldiers to Afghanistan.
Armenia will continue arms procurement dialogue with Russia, Sargsyan said.
“Contracts have been implemented in advance on a range of [orders], which is also pleasing. We will continue dialogue with Russia about the possibility of acquiring weapons on the Russian market,” Sargsyan added.
He expressed “deep respect and a desire to increasingly develop this cooperation,” lauding Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) membership allowing Yerevan to buy weapons at the same price as the Russian Armed Forces.